Valve’s Steam service is an amazing platform that’s connected indie developers and the gaming public like never before, but it’s not without some serious flaws.
The platform has caught flak for its proliferation of unfinished Early Access titles and controversial moves like monetizing mods for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Unfinished games and monetized mods, though, don’t come close to the biggest problem plaguing Steam these days: asset flippers.
Whenever a “game developer” purchases a set of development tools and passes them off as his or her own game, that individual is an asset flipper. They haven’t done anything original or transformative with the aforementioned development tools.
They’ve literally just bought, say, a Unity kit, slapped a label on it, and put it on Steam in an attempt to score cash from unsuspecting customers. These people are not developers; they’re liars, scam artists, and, frankly, scum.
The only thing that’s harder to believe than that scam artists can cheat gamers out of their money is that Valve allows it. The company has taken few measures to punish asset flippers on Steam, allowing asset flips that have cheated people for years to remain up on the storefront.
Examples include the “game” Sky Valley, a resell of a Unity flight sim kit, and Night Light, a hastily thrown together assemblage of zombie survival assets. If an asset flipper ever does get banned from Steam, it’s usually for reasons other than asset flipping.
Digital Homicide, for example, was dropped from Steam because studio head James Romine wanted critical gamers’ personal info, not because his games were asset flips.
Steam’s plague of asset flippers has gotten even worse in recent years, as unscrupulous flippers become emboldened by Valve’s lack of penalties. Valve’s current asset-flipping public enemy no. 1 is Zonitron Productions, a dev with several other aliases who sells multiple iterations of a single development kit as entire “games.”
Just this month the dev has released Staplers! and Staplers! 2, separate re-skins of the same kit whose only difference is background color. The real kicker is that both titles were released on the same day.
There’s no good reason for Valve to not step in and stop this behavior. There’s absolutely no defense for asset flipping: it’s theft, fraud, and copyright infringement rolled together into one neat package.
The practice is, at base, someone making money off of the copy/paste function – and it has to be stopped. Thankfully, the community has done a pretty good job posting warnings and threads about asset flippers on store pages, and it never hurts to check a game’s reviews for similar warnings.
Gamers, though, shouldn’t have to be each other’s only source of reliable information about asset flippers. They certainly shouldn’t have to worry about whether the game they want to purchase is actually an asset flip.
Valve’s laissez-faire attitude has already bitten it in the behind with Steam Greenlight and a class action lawsuit for inadvertently allowing underage gambling on CS:GO; hopefully both experiences spur the company to do something – anything – about these lowlife content thieves.